The Provincial government wants to hear about support for evacuees
The Province wants to hear from people about the supports available when they must evacuate their homes during a disaster.
With the increasing frequency and severity of wildfires and floods due to climate change, the Province is revamping its approach to emergencies to ensure people and communities are receiving the supports they need. A part of this work involves updating the Emergency Support Services (ESS) program to better meet the needs of people requiring support when they are evacuated from their home due to an emergency.
“During the 2023 wildfire season, thousands of people were asked to evacuate their home on short notice and the Province was there to support them,” said George Heyman, acting Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness and Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. “Times like last summer are challenging, uncertain and emotional for people, communities and businesses, and we learned a lot about how we can better support people in the future from experience and conversations that are ongoing. Your input is incredibly important and is essential to ensuring our work on improving Emergency Support Services matches the needs of people who require them the most.”
The ESS program, funded by the Province and administered through First Nations and local governments, provides short-term support to people affected by disasters, including shelter, food, transportation, clothing and incidentals. To gather wide-ranging and diverse perspectives, the Province is seeking feedback from evacuees, front-line workers, volunteers, families and businesses about how ESS could be improved. The public survey will be open until Feb. 9, 2024, at 4 p.m. (Pacific time). The survey can be accessed at: https://engage.gov.bc.ca/govtogetherbc/engagement/emergency-support-services/
The feedback collected from the survey, coupled with information gathered through extensive engagement, will support the Province’s work through the Premier’s expert task force on emergencies to make enhancements to ESS prior to the 2024 wildfire season, as well as long-term changes.
“During the recent wildfire season, the City of Prince George once again assisted evacuees from neighbouring communities. Our team knows first-hand the importance of ensuring that Emergency Support Services is easily accessible and tailored to individuals’ needs,” said Tanya Spooner, task force member and City of Prince George manager of emergency programs. “As part of the task force’s efforts and through this public survey, we aim to gather valuable feedback from people to identify ways in which the Province can further enhance ESS.”
The Premier’s expert task force on emergencies has been meeting regularly since October 2023 to identify opportunities for swift and effective improvements to the Province’s emergency response. During the next several months, the task force will work with the Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness and the Ministry of Forests to implement concrete actions that will make a difference for people during emergencies in advance of the 2024 wildfire season.
Over the past few months, the Province held more than 20 virtual and in-person engagement sessions with First Nations, local governments, ESS responders, evacuees and industry stakeholders. These sessions are helping identify opportunities to improve ESS delivery and to better support people through the Evacuee Registration and Assistance (ERA) tool, which allows evacuees to register for supports online.
“Last summer, thousands of Shuswap residents were forced to evacuate their homes and our ESS team helped families meet their basic needs of food, clothing and shelter,” said Cathy Semchuk, emergency program co-ordinator for Columbia Shuswap Regional District. “Our ESS team appreciated the opportunity to participate in the recent engagement sessions, where we had the opportunity to share our experiences, success stories and ideas for improvements. Whether you are a volunteer, an evacuee or a supplier, please complete this survey to help improve ESS.”
Enhancements to ESS will also capture on the ground learnings from the 2023 wildfire season and assist in acting on recommendations from the ombudsperson’s report: Fairness in a Changing Climate.
The public survey will help the Province build on improvements made to ESS in recent years, including:
- modernizing ESS through the Evacuee Registration and Assistance (ERA) tool so people can register online (2020);
- introducing Interac e-Transfer to deliver financial supports (2022);
- introducing pre-registration through the ERA tool (2022); and
- releasing an updated ESS program guide (2022) that better reflects current ESS practices and policies, including policies to better meet the needs of Indigenous communities, such as establishing First Nations community navigators and cultural activity locations.
- In the summer of 2023, approximately 24,300 households were placed under evacuation order and more than 7,000 households requested and received support from Emergency Support Services.
- The Province’s work to modernize ESS resulted in evacuees receiving more than $2 million in support for things such as food and incidentals by Interac e-Transfer during mass evacuations due to the wildfires in August 2023.
- A 14-member task force, composed of experts in emergency and wildfire management, has been appointed by Premier David Eby and is working to provide recommendations that will enhance emergency preparedness and response in advance of the 2024 wildfire season.